Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

The Green Wave

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If there was a clear-cut winner on Election Day, it wasn't Democrats or Senate Republicans, and it certainly wasn't The Donald. It was cannabis.

Amid all the hand-wringing and consternation over whether a Blue wave was going to crash over the nation, national pundits largely have overlooked the fact that the nation is awash in a wave of green.

Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana, while Missouri and Utah both passed initiatives legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, meaning that 84 percent of the United States of America has legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form. That's obviously a huge number that cuts across partisan politics or demographics and suggests that, maybe, voters are waking up to the fact that legalization is good policy or that, in the very least, prohibition is a bad one.

But cannabis' larger victory on Election Day may have come where it wasn't on the ballot — at the federal level. While the dust had yet to fully settle as this issue of the Journal went to press, it's clear Democrats decisively overtook the House on Election Day, gaining at least 32 seats and seizing the majority.

A new party in charge means new committee chairs. In the case of cannabis, more specifically, a new party in charge means the old white men who for years have prevented cannabis reform legislation from leaving their committees, much less seeing a floor debate or a vote, will have to give up their gavels. With their national party having added federal legalization to its platform back in 2016, Democrats will now hold the powerful committee chairs that decide what gets heard and what doesn't.

The House will still have the Republican controlled Senate to contend with but it will at least have the ability to move legislation, which exerts a different kind of political pressure than, say, a sternly worded statement after your bill dies silently in committee.

If all that seems to be good news for cannabis, the proverbial cherry on the electoral sundae came Nov. 7, when President Donald Trump forced the resignation of cannaphobic U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Not only has Sessions said cannabis is "only slightly less awful" than heroin and that "good people don't smoke marijuana," he's also taken very concrete steps to roll back protections the Obama administration put in place for states that have legalized cannabis.

So while it's certainly fair to fret over what Sessions' ouster means for the Mueller investigation, it's hard to imagine Trump finding a more regressive replacement to lead the U.S. Department of Justice when it comes to cannabis policy. (It's worth noting, however, that the man Trump appointed acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, publicly blasted the Obama Department of Justice's decision not to prosecute cannabis cases involving folks acting in compliance with state law during a failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat representing Iowa in 2014. It's hard to tell, though, whether he's passionate enough on the subject to make prohibition a DOJ priority or if it just made for an easy swipe at Obama during a partisan primary.)

For those trying to read the federal cannabis-shaped tea leaves, it's hard to tell what the next couple of years will hold, though they undoubtedly carry a bit more of the skunky odor of reform than they did a couple of weeks ago.

Ultimately, with a split Congress, any true federal reform will have to be carried by a bipartisan coalition, with negotiations and compromises reached between the House, the Senate and the White House.

With a majority of Americans — including 51 percent of Republicans — supporting legalization, it seems like a no-brainer, a simple olive branch of bipartisanship that could give everyone an easy win while undoing decades of failed policy. Of course, in today's day and age, that makes it seem all but impossible.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's

news editor. Reach him at

442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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